I’ve seen this film countless times now but not in a long time before today, when I finally took in all the extras and commentaries of the amazing special edition DVD that was released a while back. It’s kind of odd I never got round to writing anything about it on this site, ‘cos it’s easily one of my faves.
What’s interesting is how differently I view it now from how I viewed it the first time, when I was only 15. Almost creepily ironically, it was among several things that cemented my desire back then to work in movies. Yes – I saw myself as perfectly willing to endure the kind of treatment Guy is subjected to if that’s what it took to be in “the business”, lol. I saw a kind of “future me” in Guy, right from early on when he talks about why he wants to be involved in movies even at such a low level, because all his memories are of movies… and in that sense, at least, I still really feel for him. Basically, though I loved the heck out of the movie, I kinda didn’t get it. It’s also worth noting that while watching it today I realised it was probably a contributing factor to my taking up smoking around that time. They do make it look like a pretty cool habit.
But back then, I was still in school, I had never worked, and it was not only easy but much more acceptable to dream. Watching today, having been in a rather crappy job for over 10 years, from the moment Frank Whaley screams at Kevin Spacey “SIT. THE FUCK. DOWN.” I couldn’t help but feel like “oh… I recognise this…”
That’s not to say the film isn’t still almost joyous in its darkness. I find my loyalties shifting from character to character here more than any film I can think of off the top of my head. Kevin Spacey’s studio exec Buddy Ackerman is a loathsome prick, it can’t be denied, but Spacey imbues him with something completely irresistible in what I think is probably one of his best performances – and worst of all, like the best villains, a lot of what he says makes sense… like at the end when he interrupts Guy’s “I spent a whole year…” “And I spent TEN, DAMMIT!” He tells Guy he “earned this”, and it’s hard to argue. Whaley’s Guy is all to easy to sympathise with, especially like I said if you’ve ever had a crappy job, but when Spacey is in full swing, you can’t help but side with those who say at various junctures in the movie to him, “Walk away!”
The movie is structured, like a lot of things post-*Pulp Fiction* it must be said, in that “it doesn’t need to be all mixed up like this but it makes it feel cooler” way but simultaneously you can’t help but compare at least the opening to Sunset Boulevard – hard to elaborate on that without spoilers, but if you know both movies you’ll know what I mean. What I’m saying I guess is that the structure isn’t entirely just for show… and it does add a definite air of mystery to the proceedings.
My favourite little detail that almost sums up the whole inescapable feeling of the movie is the title cards illustrating the time past. They start innocently enough as Guy starts his job working for Buddy… “Day One”. You mightn’t even notice when the second one comes up exactly what’s going on, when a card comes up saying “Week One”. But you might get it when “Month One” and “Year One” come up. This is a Guy who’s going nowhere, in a system that pretty much counts on it, and the more you can relate to that feeling, perhaps, the harder it will hit, and the more you might find yourself enjoying the revenge sequences. The ending is horribly hollow though, and kind of leaves us all as guilty as each other, whether we frowned or revelled in how it all went down. George Huang says in his solo commentary that he wasn’t necessarily saying anything with this movie, offering no solutions or endorsement of or to any of the behaviour shown, but simply holding a mirror up. If there’s anything wrong with the movie it is just that lack of conclusion as another “Day One” card comes up. It just goes on and on, a nightmare without end. But that somehow makes the movie special too… horribly special.